Straphangers Campaign Top-10 Worst (And Best) NYC Transit Moments of 2011

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(New York, NY - WNYC) - In 2011, New York transit riders were beset by fare hikes, rats, the loss of garbage cans and a full-on closure because of Tropical Storm Irene.

But none of those events, according to subway advocacy group the Straphangers Campaign, was the No. 1 horrible thing that happened to transit this year.  What's the worst thing that happened?  A pair of maneuvers that make the financial structure of the nation's largest transit system more uncertain.

Here are the full list of best and worst transit events from the Straphangers' Campaign.

The top-10 worst:

10. A tax-free transit benefit may shrink in half next year. The program – which exempts up to $230 of wages used for transit from most taxes  – was increased in 2009. The parking benefit is slated to go up to $240, while the transit benefit will fall to $125 unless Congress acts.

9.  Passenger assaults on bus drivers and subway workers are up, 20 percent and 16 percent, respectively, this year.

8. Garbage can-less subway stations. As part of a larger initiative to address subway garbage disposal problems, a pilot to remove garbage cans from two stations got a poor response from the public.

7. Tropical Storm Irene. It could have been much worse. In stark contrast to the blizzard of late 2010, the City and MTA performed well here. But many New Yorkers experienced what the loss of transit service meant to the city that never sleeps.

6. Breakdowns increased and ridership decreased on city transit buses. The breakdown rate has worsened more than 11 percent and total ridership is 3 percent, as of September 2011. Reason given: an aging bus fleet and a December 2010 fare hike. The percent of city buses that were 12 years or older more than doubled in the past year.

5. MTA over budget and behind schedule on Second Avenue Subway and East Side Access, say federal officials. The MTA said that ESA and Second Avenue will be done by September 2016 and December 2016, respectively, while the Federal Transit Administration puts their opening dates at April 2018 and February 2018.

4. Aged trains on C line will now remain in service through at least 2017. They will be 53-years old, well past the tenure envisioned upon their gleaming debut during the Johnson Administration in 1964. The reason: shortfalls in capital revenues.

3. MTA proposed to take on $7 billion of debt for capital projects. With little hope of new funds, the MTA is proposing more borrowing to pay for its key rebuilding program. The result: half a billion in added interest payments a year, fueling pressure for higher fares to pay it back.

2. The state legislature voted exemptions to the MTA payroll tax at an unknown cost to its riders.

1. The state swept a net $100 million from dedicated transit operating funds. For the second year in a row, state government diverted money from accounts created to fund mass transit. The cuts add pressure to hike fares and cut service. Legislation to make it harder to raid dedicated transit funds passed both houses of the state legislature, but then was watered down.


Top-10 best:
10. More countdown clocks appear around the subways. New York City Transit set as a goal to install these highly popular displays at 153 stations on the No. 1 through 6 lines by December 2011. Another 24 are on the L and a simpler version is at 32 stations on lettered lines.

9. Cell phone service comes to six underground subway stations. Not everyone will agree that his is a good step.  In a recent Straphangers Campaign opinion poll, riders voted 54 percent to 43 percent that this was a good idea. It’s important to note that riders for years have used cell phones at hundreds of stations above ground.

8. $1 fee on purchase of a MetroCard postponed. Supporters say it would reduce litter. Opponents see it as a fare hike and it’s not popular. The agency will hold off until 2013.

7. MTA adopted the 511 number for one-stop telephone help. Coupled with, this has the potential of providing better customer assistance at lower cost. But it still needs to be streamlined.

6. The southbound Cortland Street station on the R line re-opened. There was a grim time after 9/11 that a plywood, handwritten sign on the Cortlandt station in the shadow of the World Trade Center warned train operators, “Do Not Stop Here.”

5. Riders can now track the location of some bus routes by cell phone. “Bus Time” – which allows riders to get information on the location on buses on their cell phones – started on the B63 in February.  By year’s end, it comes to all Staten Island bus routes.  It’s convenient and encourages people to use buses.

4. MTA launched Weekender site. When you go to on Friday afternoons through Sunday evening, it becomes the Weekender, with easy-to-understand maps describing what most weekend visitors want to know: how will my commute be affected by transit construction and repair projects

3. Some of the service cuts from last year were restored in 2011. Weekend M50 bus service in midtown was re-instituted, as was the X36/38 express bus from Bay Ridge to Manhattan.

2. Faster bus service arrived on the M34. This year, M34 passengers got to pay their fares before boarding, speeding up service on this notoriously slow route – if there’s good rider education on the new fare system.

1. There was no subway, bus and commuter fare hike after three years-in-a-row of increases. The fare went up in 2008, 2009 and 2010 – but not in 2011. That was good news for cash-strapped riders in a harsh economy.  But the MTA already says it needs a higher fare by the end of 2012.

The MTA declined comment.